As most of you know, I’m a freelance writer.
Like any other profession, the life of a freelancer has it pros and cons.
Pros include choosing my own hours, being able to work in my pyjamas, having a coffee machine less than 10 steps away, and being flexible enough to watch my kids at their various school activities or have lunch with a friend.
Cons include competing deadlines, varying monthly income, the need to work nights and weekends at times, and having to line up your own work.
For now, the pros outweigh the cons and I am pretty happy to be living the life of a freelancer. The ebb and flow of work also allows me to work on my first novel. (But that’s a different story for a different blog post).
Contributing writers, volunteers and interns
However, one of the pitfalls of a freelance writer is the need to constantly be on the lookout for work. Sometimes work comes in as a result of groundwork laid months or even years ago. But it can take time to build that momentum. So I have several email alerts set up to notify me of various writing jobs available.
Some of these jobs offer reasonable pay but most pay a pittance. I actually wrote a post a while back about the generous offer to pay $20 for 2,500 words which equated to less than 1 cent per word).
However, the more alarming and frustrating trend I am noticing is the expectation of writers to work for free.
Hard to believe?
Well, it’s pretty common in the world of freelancing and unfortunately, it is becoming more commonplace. It’s not unusual for me to see as many as 10 of these ‘job ads’ per day!
These job ads are very cunning. They start out as normal job ads, stating what their company is and what the ideal incumbent is like. These ads often request people with degree-qualifications, high-end research skills, native-English speaker, attention to detail, willingness to work hard and ability to deliver to brief. You can also expect wonderful working conditions. Blah blah blah.
The kicker is usually hidden, right at the end.
Unfortunately, we cannot afford to pay for writers at this time, but you will gain tremendous experience.
This unpaid position is ideal for someone wishing to build a portfolio of work.
In return, you will gain valuable experience and learn the ropes of writing for a digital platform.
In other words, ‘we want top notch writers who have loads of experience writing interesting researched-based articles, who are willing to work for nothing’.
Believe in yourself — or you’ll work for free
These ads anger me for several reasons.
- They promote the premise that good writers are not worth paying
- They play on the self-doubt that plagues many writers, that they aren’t good enough to request a fee
- They devalue writing skills in general
- They devalue the writing industry by setting up expectations for other business owners, that good writing can be obtained for free
- The business model behind these ads is based on exploiting people and their talents
- The business owner expects others to work for nothing in order for them to build their business (i.e. get ahead at the expense of others).
For every one ad that is willing to pay a writer a decent amount, there are at least 20 – 30 looking for a freebie. Quite frankly, I’m sick of it.
But what I am more sick of are the writers who agree to such terms, because they are really not helping their cause, or mine.
Every time a writer agrees to write for free, they undermine their own worth, the worth of other writers and devalue the writing industry in general.
The reason so many people respond to these ads, is because they doubt their skills are worth paying for. They don’t back themselves. Instead, they gladly accept any job that comes their way, even if it means they don’t get paid.
It’s kind of like being offered scraps from the dinner table and being over the moon about it.
Know what you’re worth…and stand by it
If writers stopped doubting their abilities and demanded to be paid, then these ads wouldn’t be tolerated, let alone answered.
Today I saw another ad for a ‘start-up’ wellness company. They were looking for “content writers/creators for blogs, research articles, marketing material and newsletters mainly focusing in health, wellbeing and fitness”. That’s exactly my niche, so I continued reading. (Note the grammatical error is the advertiser’s — no wonder they need writers) …
“All content will need to be original, and target our the desired readers along with the consideration of SEO.
We are looking for someone who is reliable, hardworking and keen to produce content. In return, you will gain valuable experience, working for a new up and coming health start-up company.”
I immediately saw red. I was so angry, I had to step away from my computer for a while.
But after thinking about it, I decided to contact them.
I wrote quite a detailed email responding to their ad, outlining my experience, my skills, my publishing credits and provided them with links to all my published works.
I finished my email with this sentence:
“I’m sure I have the skills you are looking for, so I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with your further. There’s just one thing …. I want to be paid for my expertise. If you are willing to pay me, we may be able to work together.”
I called them out on looking for free labour and told them I was worth paying.
For the record, I don’t expect them to respond. But that wasn’t the point of my email. I wanted to tell them they needed to rethink their advertising.
Instead of being angry about their ad, I told them I was worth something. I took back my power.
Do you practice self-doubt or self-belief
Sometimes it’s not easy to back yourself.
Self-doubt is probably the biggest hurdle for writers. Is this the right style? Will they like what I write? Is this the right angle to take? Am I good enough to write this?
When work seems to dry up, it’s very easy to think the worst — that you just can’t make it as a writer.
However, writers don’t have the monopoly on self-doubt. Everyone experiences it.
The man who wants to change careers but doubts he has what it takes.
The business owner who wants to expand her business, but questions whether she will be successful.
The boy wanting to represent his country at the Olympics one day, but wonders if he is good enough.
The student wanting to study law, but doubting she has the smarts.
The aspiring novelist wondering if she is kidding herself.
As I see it, we have two choices.
We can keep doubting, or we can start backing ourselves.
We can keep questioning our abilities, or start believing in them.
We can keep wishing for dreams, or start working towards them.
The choice is ours.
Personally, I’m choosing self-belief, because I’m worth it.
And you’re worth it too.
Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based freelance writer at Write to the Point Communications. This blog is just one of the things she writes in her spare time.
She also specialises in writing for the health and well-being market. As well as writing thoroughly researched articles, she can provide assistance with press releases, copywriting, editing, proofreading and communication strategies.
So if you would like her to help you (and you are willing to pay her), contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org